In recognition of National Bullying Prevention month (October, here in the states), I would like to share some information on bullying that I gained by attending an “Evening with the Experts” presentation held by the Lindner Center of Hope (LCOH). The LCOH is “is a nonprofit, mental health center staffed by a diverse team, united in the philosophy that by working together, we can best offer hope for people living with mental illness. The patient and family are at the center of our treatment, education and research. Lindner Center of HOPE provides patient-centered, scientifically-advanced care for individuals suffering with mental illness and specializes in the diagnosis and treatment of: Mood Disorders, Eating Disorders, Anxiety Disorders, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, Addictive Disorders, and Co-occurring Psychiatric Disorders” (as taken from their mission statement).
A study performed by the Bully Project discovered that EVERY day approximately 160,000 students skip school for fear of encountering their bully; that’s 21% of the child population in the United States. However, many well-meaning adults do not understand the various forms bullying can take in today’s society.
Another study, performed by the Youth Voice Project, stated many reasons for which students were bullied: 55% were bullied because of their looks, 37% were bullied due to their body shape, 16% were bullied for their race, 14% were targeted due to his or her sexual orientation, 13% were bullied because of their family’s income, 12% were targeted due to religion and 8% were bullied due to a real or perceived disability.
As presented by Dr. Tracy Cummings, staff psychiatrist at the LCOH, there are five distinct types of bullying:
1) Verbal- takes the form of: name calling, demeaning nicknames, teasing, taunting, sexual comments, hate speech, mocking, note writing/texting, and prank phone calls. Targets of bullying often internalize these verbal messages from bullying and come to believe them as truth.
2) Physical- takes the form of: pinching, hitting, kicking, pushing, tripping, spitting, posturing (intimidation), taking/breaking possessions, sexual intimidation and intruding upon personal space. Fortunately, if there is a fortunately in this situation, physical bullying can very easily travel through the legal system as assault.
3) Social/Relational- takes the form of: exclusion of self/others, spreading rumors, telling secrets, embarrassing someone in public, whispering about others, and imitating. Rather than being an assault on the body—as with physical bullying—social bullying is an assault on a target’s character and is, therefore, harder to see outwardly.
4) Extortion- is the use of force or threats to get something from the target; either a physical object, an action (such as doing homework or stealing for the bully) or to make any other gain by the bully.
5) Cyberbullying- takes the form of: email, texts, instant messages, cell phones, chat room, online journals/blogs, websites, digital photos and social media. These forms of bullying can either be attacks on a certain target or exclusion of a target. A study from the CyberbullyingResearchCenter shows that 50% of school-age children have experienced some form of cyberbullying; with 10-20% of those students experiencing the bullying on a regular basis.
Dr. Cummings also presented warning signs to look for in students (and even adults) who you may suspect to be the target of bullying:
Obvious signs of bullying
1) physical marks on the target of bullying such as scratches, bruises or other indications of violence
2) the target of bullying is missing items
3) the target of bullying discloses the bullying (this happens VERY rarely)
Subtle signs of bullying
1) the target of bullying asks questions about bullying or asks for advice on how to handle situations with bullies
2) the target has somatic complaints (physical symptoms such as stomach aches, headaches or other pains that have no obvious medical cause are often brought on by the stress and emotional toll put on the target by the bully)
3) the target makes self-degrading comments—often the same ones they hear about themselves from the bully/bullies
4) the target refuses to attend school
The effects, according to Dr. Cummings, of bullying include the following:
-maladaptive social interactions
-compromised educational/job opportunities
-dysfunctional relationships (targets will not allow positive relationships to form for fear it may develop into bullying)
-change in sleeping patters (either too much or too little)
-variance in eating patters (either too much or too little)
-death (homicide and/or suicide)
Dr. Cummings also offered many strategies for appropriate interventions.
How to intervene as an adult:
2) Assess safety
3) Demand action
a. Review the school’s bullying policy, bring up concerns with the principal, take legal action if necessary
b. Document all instances of bullying
4) Stay (or get) involved in ending the bullying
5) Build a social network to end the bullying and support the target’s wellbeing
6) Maintain a follow-up to ensure the bullying is ending
How to intervene as a child:
1) Be empowered- leave a potentially dangerous situation, befriend the target, do not join the bullying, report bullying to an adult
2) Act safely
3) Act positively
How to empower targets of bullying:
1) let them know you are listening
2) let them know they do not deserve to be treated the way the bully treats them
3) Let them know they have the right to leave the situation
4) Let them know that you are there for support and encouragement
On a personal note, as a target of bullying myself, I know the damaging effects it can have both in the moment the bullying takes places and continuing on into the target’s adult life. These experiences with bullying are one of the many reasons why I started this blog.
Below are some links not noted above that are very valuable toward ending bullying:
2) dosomething.org has a “Bully Text” campaign on their website which offers information and an informative, text-based simulation
3) Embrace Civility, a program offered for parents and schools
“Who will rise up for me against the wicked? Who will take a stand for me against evildoers? Unless the Lord had given me help, I would soon have dwelt in the silence of death. When I said, ‘My foot is slipping,’ your unfailing love, Lord, supported me. When anxiety was great within me, your consolation brought me joy.”